Nowadays, according to the assessment of the European Disability Forum, about 80 million Europeans have a disability. One in four Europeans has a family member with a disability. Six Europeans out of ten know someone, who has a disability. Thus, the protection of vulnerable people requires urgent attention.
Moreover, poverty rates among people with disabilities are 70% higher than average. More than 30% of people with disabilities over 75 years old are restricted to some extent, and 20% are severely restricted. The percentage of people with disabilities is set to rise as the European Union population ages. The European Union and its Member States have a strong mandate to improve the social and economic situation of people with disabilities.
Control over one’s life and all its aspects are a fundamental requirement for the full enjoyment of all human rights. Legal capacity continues to be denied to a large part of the population on the basis of an intellectual or psychosocial disability. Substituted decision-making, including full guardianship regimes where persons are stripped of their personhood in the eyes of the law and the society, are still the norm in many member States.
In fact, the right of persons with disabilities to social protection is recognized by the European Social Charter, the European Convention on Human Rights and most importantly the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as well as all other international human rights instruments. Article 28 paragraph 1 of the CRPD in particular recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, Hence, States parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that they receive equal access to mainstream social protection programs and services.
Despite the huge number of documents regulating the legal relations of persons with disabilities, still cannot be said that the mechanism for their rights in the EU is ideal. There are many gaps in this regard; for example, the cases under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of UNCRPD were committed in many EU countries The importance of combating “ableism” addresses public policies and legislation, highlighting the key role of states as engines for equality in the field of disablement, and therefore in producing discourses against discrimination. Successful experiences may work both as a proof of good results, and as a model to inspire public policies in neighboring countries.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities stated that “Investment in persons with disabilities is necessary not only to promote compliance with the CRPD and other relevant instruments, but also for the realization of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.” Mainstreaming is at once a method, a policy and a tool for achieving social inclusion, which involves the practical pursuit of non-discrimination and equality of opportunity: mainstreaming disability is about recognizing persons with disabilities as rights-holding, equal members of society who must be actively engaged in the development process irrespective of their impairment or other status. This is the most cost-effective and efficient way to achieve equality for persons with disabilities.
In order to achieve the full inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities, “it is often necessary to provide specific support… in parallel, to ensure that they are empowered to participate on an equal basis with others. This combination of ‘disability inclusion’ with disability specific projects, or components of projects, which aim to empower persons with disabilities in particular, is called the ‘twin track approach’”. Unfortunately, to date, there have been, overall, “a low amount of people with disabilities who have experienced progress through development aid”. Moreover, existing examples are not collected systematically and are often not available in accessible formats, with only a few exceptions.
In addition, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3, 2016), the head of the 47-nation Council of Europe has called on European governments to draw on the newly-adopted Disability Strategy to make human rights a reality for all. This Strategy is intended to harness the combined potential of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and the UN Convention, and to make full use of Europe 2020 and its instruments. It sets in motion a process to empower people with disabilities, so that they can participate fully in society on an equal basis with others. As Europe’s population ages, these actions will have a tangible impact on the quality of life of an increasingly large proportion of its people.
As Europe’s population ages, three main elements can result into the best recipe for Disability Policies: the application with disabilities of mainstreaming as the key tool for action, the empowerment of the people with disabilities to make them an active part of the decision processes, and the commitment of Governments and institutions both in the international, but also in the local and regional levels, to work together to build a barrier-free Europe for all.